Versus sports channel distribution spurs fight between DIRECTV, Comcast

DIRECTV has dropped Comcast’s Versus sports channel after saying it was unable to strike a new carriage deal. The action, which took place when the carriage contract expired Sept. 1, will deny Versus the 14 million subscribers provided by DIRECTV.

After removing Versus from its lineup, DIRECTV told its viewers that “Comcast, which owns Versus, has forced us to take down the channel because we will not submit to their unfair and outrageous demands.”

DIRECTV continued: “In sports, we all expect fair play and a level playing field — a competitor that plays by the rules. Evidently, that’s not the rule book Comcast plays by. Its unreasonable demands are the economic equivalent of juicing to gain an advantage over its competitors. And our fear is that their egregiously greedy behavior may ultimately kill coverage of your favorite sports on television.”

DIRECTV charged that Versus — best known for its Tour de France and NHL coverage — is attempting to get more than a 20 percent rate hike for carriage. Neither side would talk specifics, but people familiar with the situation said Versus wants an increase from about 21 cents to 26 cents per subscriber per month.

Comcast countered that the dispute isn’t about money. It claims DIRECTV wanted to move Versus to a package that would let it reach only 6.3 million of the satellite broadcaster’s subscribers. DIRECTV did not deny that it wants to place Versus on a tier of service with less reach, but it said that Comcast already has similar arrangements with other distributors. Comcast and DIRECTV, rarely on good terms, are also involved in arbitration cases over carriage of regional sports networks owned by Comcast in Northern California and New England.

Versus, available in 75 million homes until DIRECTV dropped it, is Comcast’s attempt to become a player in the sports TV business. It has been aggressively going after major sports events in the last few years. In addition to the Tour de France and the NHL, Versus has rights to college football, including Big 12 and Pac-10 games.